Exactly one year ago this week, on March 15, 2006, city council voted to renew Portland's controversial Drug- and Prostitution-Free Zones for another year, inserting new protections aimed at balancing neighborhood safety with civil liberties.
In case you don't have a calendar in front of you, that means it's time for council to revisit the zones once again. But in the wake of news that African Americans may be disproportionately targeted by the exclusions ["Black Exclusion Zones," News, March 8], city council support may be dwindling.
"I have serious concerns to begin with on the civil liberties impacted by the zones," says City Commissioner Randy Leonard. "I have no tolerance for drug use, but I'm not convinced that the exclusions are consistent with due process protections. When we do anything that tries to get around the Constitution, there's probably something inherently wrong with it."
Leonard was aghast at what the initial reports suggest—that more African Americans are being excluded than actually arrested.
"If those [exclusion] numbers pan out, I'd probably not support the renewal," he added. "In a way, I hope these numbers are accurate, because it would eliminate my angst over the zones. It would make my vote easier."
Perhaps not surprisingly, Commissioner Erik Sten has a slightly more nuanced response than Leonard, saying he objects to the North/Northeast Portland Drug-Free Zones, but can support a downtown zone.
"For years, they've been saying that these zones don't disproportionately target minorities and limit drug trafficking," Sten says, pointing out that the police bureau has never produced any figures to back up those claims. "To the mayor's credit, he's the reason these numbers exist."
He adds "But at this point, I don't think I'd support renewing the northeast zone."
As with so many recent city council issues, Commissioner Sam Adams could very well end up being a swing vote on whatever proposal comes before council in the coming weeks. Unfortunately, he's been in DC and unavailable for comment, but he's been a strong supporter of the zones in the past, siding with neighborhoods and business associations crying for "livability."
Meanwhile! The members of city council—minus the mayor—will soon be divided up into their two-person budget committees to work on bureau budgets. For the first time, Adams and Leonard will be on a team together, which some insiders think will be fun to watch.
"Those two together are like Mentos and Diet Coke," Sten joked. "No bureau manager wants to walk in and see that combination."